#49 Arizona State Football 2017 Preview

Arizona State Sun Devils
Overall Rank: #49
#9 Pac-12
Following a 5-1 start to the 2016 season, which included victories over Texas Tech, California and UCLA, Arizona State lost their last six games and missed out on a bowl game. It was a tough way to end the season, although the Sun Devils did find some talented young players during that tough stretch of games. The hope is this year they can use that developing talent and start winning a few more Pac-12 games.
2016 Record: 5-7, 2-7
2016 Bowl: None
Coach: Todd Graham (39-26 at Arizona State, 88-55 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Billy Napier
Defensive Coordinator: Phil Bennett
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Demario Richard, RB, 593 yards
Passing: Manny Wilkins, QB, 2,329 yards
Receiving: K’Neal Harry, WR, 659 yards
Tackles: D.J.Calhoun, LB, 77
Sacks: Koron Crump, LB, 9.0
Interceptions: Marcus Ball, S, 1; Koron Crump, LB, 1
Other Key Returnees: RB Kalen Ballage, DE JoJo Wicker, DT Tashon Smallwood
Key Losses: WR Tim White, OL Evan Goodman, DB Amand Perry, LB Laiu Moeakiola, DB Kareem Orr
Quarterback Manny Wilkins returns after throwing for 2,329 yards and a dozen touchdowns during an injury filled 2016 season. The junior has played well when healthy during the offseason, but he has not earned the starting job yet and is being pushed by Alabama transfer Blake Barnett. If one can beat out the other in the spring, Coach Todd Graham at least has a talented backup ready to come in whenever necessary. N’Keal Harry had an amazing freshman campaign, catching a freshman school record 58 passes for 659 yards and five scores. With speedy Oklahoma transfer John Humphrey joining the mix, ASU should have a potent passing game. The ground game could be even better though, especially behind an improving offensive line that struggled with some growing pains last year. Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage combined to rush for 1,129 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Both could do much better than that given the opportunity.
Phil Bennett will take over as defensive coordinator after spending some time at Baylor. The last two years have just been atrocious for the secondary and that is where things need to improve quickly. But safety Marcus Ball is the only returning starter to the unit and the only newcomers are freshmen. The Sun Devils want to work on their tackling and make things simpler for an inexperienced secondary. That could help, but it is not possible for it to get any worse. The linebackers have much more experience. D.J. Calhoun recorded a team high 77 tackles and Koron Crump tallied 9.0 sacks. Christian Sam missed most of last season and tallied 98 tackles back in 2015. JoJo Wicker and Tashon Smallwood anchor a decent line. This is a team that can get to the quarterback, but if it happens even more maybe they can help out the secondary.
The Bottom Line:
The offense should be balanced and relatively decent. If Arizona State can get things going defensively, they have a very good shot at reaching a bowl game. The schedule is not easy, but the Sun Devils have the potential to pull off a couple upsets along the way. In the end though, that secondary will be exploited by most teams on the schedule and that will leave Arizona State struggling to reach six wins again in 2017.
Projected Bowl: None
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 131.5 (112th in nation, 10th in conference)
Passing Offense: 259.3 (39, 6)
Total Offense: 390.8 (81, 9)
Scoring Offense: 33.3 (40, 6)
Rushing Defense: 163.1 (56, 7)
Pass Defense: 357.4 (128, 12)
Total Defense: 520.5 (127, 12)
Scoring Defense: 39.8 (124, 10)
Turnover Margin: -0.33 (93, 11)
Sacks: 2.33 (42, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 3.42 (123, 12)
Madness 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#77 Eno Benjamin
#196 Alex Perry
#207 Tyler Johnson